So, I’ve been running the HoR2 mods kind of from the beginning. It’s interesting to see things from the other side of the screen (so to speak). It’s also interesting to see them played in approximate order as I played most of the early mods really late, like after my characters were rank 2 and, in one case, an Emerald Magistrate late.
Not to disparage anyone since writing mods is hard work, especially accounting for the ways players will not get what they are supposed to do, but I thought I’d do some analysis of the first seven mods. Why seven? I have never actually played #8 – Uncertainty – and haven’t yet run it either (maybe next week). Also, seven seems like a reasonable number to work with in a first batch, though I might never get around to making this a series.
#1 Treacherous Terrain
What I like about Treacherous Terrain is that there are clear bad guys. One of them is more of a society thing which is good for getting people into the social mores of a society we Westerners just aren’t going to grok. The other shows true evil. One of my biggest complaints with HoR is that it isn’t heroic enough. I really don’t actually like Rokugani society – I like demonslaying. The mod flows okay, very linear. There’s opportunities to be social without being overboard. The mod doesn’t punish you overmuch if you aren’t perfect.
Is it predictable? Sure. But, the thing with a lot of these mods is that people can figure out what’s going on easily enough (or as one option among red herrings) but lack the ability to resolve things until certain actions are performed or the bad guy goes blatant. I don’t know if it’s so much a criticism as that it’s a feature of this mod that it’s really almost entirely about one big combat sequence. In GMing the mod, the combats aren’t that dangerous, though any combat in L5R is dangerous. When I played it, it seemed far more dangerous … for brand new characters; my party was way overpowered for this as I wasn’t the only one playing an experienced character.
Decent. Btw, “decent” to me has more the definition that “good” does in a dictionary.
#2 Writ of Justice
I think this should come later in the series. We were another experienced party, far, far more deadly than someone coming off of playing Topaz Championship and Treacherous Terrain. I was playing my first alt character, which was useful as we went with a strategy of “oops, I guess this is a frontal assault” on like 30 dudes. L5R is not a system where you want to just slaughter your way through 30 dudes, at least not before the party is rank 3ish (second attacks for bushi, more degenerate spellcasting). So, useful because this was my “try to kill me” character who actually came close a few times.
There’s another reason for it coming later. While you may want to set up some metaplot stuff early on in a campaign, the metaplot stuff here can easily go over the heads of the players. The yakuza gang stuff just didn’t mean anything to me.
Getting back to the danger level, when I ran this, the undermanned party almost did the right thing but ended up botching it after making things more complicated than they needed to be. Where we could botch things and just murder our way to victory, my players didn’t have that as a solid option. While there are some holes in what happens if players do certain things, a far too common problem which I’d be less critical of if we were talking about doing things not explicitly mentioned in the mod, this mod does cover a vast variety of options for what the players can try.
Unenthralled. Too dangerous for people who don’t do the right things.
#3 Tears of a Fox’s Heart
This was funny in that my players played this so much better than I did. I fixated on the Kitsu because of his incompetence. Now, a lot of mods try to have red herrings, but this is the sort of thing that is obnoxious. If I would have failed rolls, I wouldn’t have realized he didn’t know what the hell he was doing and wouldn’t have been as suspicious. In other words, I was penalized for success. Now, one of our players did figure things out pretty much immediately, it was just a matter of proving it. And, because the GM allowed it, I got to use an obscure skill *a lot*.
I like the mood of this mod and the story mostly works. The ending, if dealt with socially, makes enough sense that you can go the easy option. I like the supernatural mods because, again, it’s not getting bogged down in courtly nonsense and legal arguments. It’s more like Inuyasha, say, which is something I’d much rather play.
Decent. I have a fair number of notes, so felt reasonably meaty.
#4 Wrath of the Kami
This was a bit of an odd experience for me as our group was sufficiently buff and likely to get on the right leads that I spent a lot of the mod just following the fluff. Sure, I got to show off a bit of my deadly combat prowess doing 35 damage with a war fan in what I think was a boring roll, but I missed out on a cool experience as I was barely engaged on what was going on. Also, my experience might have suffered from playing the Remorseful Seppuku series of mods out of order as I already knew about the major NPC and my experience in Unquiet Graves was brutal (in a number of ways) making this kind of easy.
I would have said there was nothing really wrong with this mod after playing it or after reading it as a GM the first time. Then, I realized something. It actually forces you along a much more linear path than it seemed at first. It did impart some metaplot while introducing an infamous NPC and there were humorous ways to resolve things, but it forced you to either choose options that are kind of ridiculous for lower rank characters … or take an option that is never addressed in the mod yet is probably the most obvious thing in the world to do if you have a certain bent (my players talked about it but I never considered it).
Unenthralled. Resolving things is too predetermined.
#5 Unrequited Love
Set immediately after Wrath of the Kami, this is a purely courtly mod. I can see some people – the type of player who likes to play antisocial Crab bushi – hating this mod as being boring and frivolous. But, I actually am quite fond of it, putting it in my upper echelon for HoR2 mods. It’s a nice break from murder investigations, which I eventually got tired of, and enables some character development while playing in what feels a bit like a romantic farce. It also plays quick.
It does have some problems on when you are supposed to do things since the Emerald Championship is still going on in the background. My players did okay, though I notice the courtly stuff ends up being more mechanical for them than it is for me.
Strong … for courtly types. Maybe I like it so much because my hottie won.
#6 Devoured by the Sea
I had a bias. I was a big fan of sea mods because my first alt was a [Phoenix, Mirumoto School] sailor, and another player was playing a [boring Mantis] sailor who happened to be my character’s love interest. So, we happily coupled … um … sailed as a couple. I think I was actually useless any time we weren’t making sailing rolls.
On the other hand, I could see some people getting a bit frustrated with the mod. If you weren’t prepared to be at sea, might be rougher than it should be. There’s way too much “why is this happening?” going on. I actually commented to an observer that I thought one scene was completely pointless even though it was supposed to be dramatic.
I’m not really sure whether it would be all that for a more normal party. As for my players, since one of them was playing HoR for the first time with a Mantis who Doubts his sailing skill, it was quite amusing.
Mixed. Lets people use obscure skills, big letdown on major scene.
As I was playing an Emerald Magistrate at the time, this was kind of odd (I know, I say that a lot). I was very frustrated by how mods have NPCs who are way too stubborn, but the combat was nice and brutal. By brutal, I mean that I rolled 90 on my attack roll in the first fight (in a low rank mod) and the final battle saw the spell I hate the most give me nothing to do in the fight.
A big problem I have with this mod is that it isn’t clear how much urgency there is and how long it takes to do anything, so you have intense timeline issues. If you don’t do things right away, you get screwed. My players did a good job acting quickly (if wasting a lot of time deciding what to do once they were at a place with clues) but almost let things get away from them because so much is frontloaded in the mod. Again, I like how the bad guys are really bad.
Decent, I guess. I get tired fast of recalcitrant NPCs, though.
So, a thread broke out on what people’s favorite early mods were (first 20 or so) and I was stunned by what people chose. I still despise Charge of the Baraunghar for instance, yet some people picked it as the top mod. Of course, since I played a lot of early mods much later with characters who were much more experienced and in groups that had broken (aka normal rank 2) characters, they were possibly different experiences for me than they might have been otherwise.
That Unrequited Love is my favorite of the early mods and that there isn’t much in the way of competition for that is probably highly unusual; I think it has a lot to do with not feeling screwed by the mod in one way or another. I really liked the ending of Unquiet Graves (where people I know had an absolutely terrible ending), I found much of the rest of it tedious. I liked In Search of the Future much more than others, apparently. I liked Bloom of the White Orchid more than others (who aren’t shugenja), which isn’t saying much as players of non-shugenja seem to think there’s nothing to do in it, where I mostly forgot what happened since it was the second mod in HoR2 I played (I do remember doing stuff).
Anyway, getting back to the first seven mods. I think they could be better, both in terms of making decisions easier for newbs, for making what’s going on less obscure, for being less dangerous. Some of the later low rank mods are much more to my liking as early mods to play, like Secluded Village, which I think is really good at presenting the world and an adventure in the world that’s player friendly (even if people I run it for make one of the villages way more difficult than it needs to be). Of course, everyone should start a new character with Grave of Heroes, like I did with one character, but that requires some careful metagaming – I survived, somehow.